When I was growing up, my father frequently quoted Zechariah Chafee to me: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”
Of course, at the time, I had no idea who Zechariah Chafee was. I thought he was an eloquent boxer philosopher. (He was a professor of Constitutional law at Harvard Law School.)
My father’s lesson was that we are free to act, but we cannot act in a way that abridges the freedom of others.
Consider a spectrum with courage at one end and consideration at the other.
A bully has courage (for the purposes of our discussion here). He goes for what he wants at the expense of what others want. This is a classic example of a strength (the courage to stand up for what you want) being taken too far (standing up for what you want at all costs). Stephen Covey described this as Win-Lose; in order for you to win, the other party has to lose.
At the other end of the spectrum would be a doormat. A doormat avoids conflict by deferring to what others want without standing up for what they want. This is another strength taken too far: the consideration to see that others get what they want but at the expense of what you want. This could be described as Lose-Win.
What you need is to find the balance between courage and consideration, a concept Covey called “maturity”.
It’s entirely appropriate for you to seek out and work for the things you want. God gave you the right to choose and expects you to exercise it. Properly done, you find a way to get what you want that also helps the other person get what they want.
When you get what you want and ignore what others want to get it (Win-Lose), no one is going to want to keep working with you. Every interaction becomes a withdrawal from your relationship with them. Soon, you’ve overdrawn your account with everyone you know.
Going for Lose-Win doesn’t work, either. Everyone around you is happy and they think you’re very helpful. But there’s one problem: you’re not getting what you need. If you don’t take care of yourself—including working towards your own goals—you’ll burn out and not be any good to anyone.
You are free to act—as the Declaration of Independence put it—in the pursuit of happiness. If you choose to act in a way that abridges the same freedom in another, you’ll find your own freedom diminishes, either through legal repercussions or the natural consequences of your immature (think about it) actions.
If you pursue your goals, dreams, and happiness in a way that helps others do the same, you’re doing it right. Anything you do that furthers your interests also furthers theirs. Selfishness isn’t a thing at that point. Your success and theirs are the same. The more pie you get, the more pie there is for everyone else.
You’ve figured out how to act in a way that increases the freedom of those around you. Keep it up!
Question: How can you teach your children to be both courageous and considerate? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.
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